by Luke Henne | sports editor
Feb. 17, 2022
Sports bring out the fierce rivalries and pure animosity that opponents often display when taking the field, court or ice against one another.
But sports can also bring out the compassionate side of athletes, who have an ability to leave long-lasting impacts on society.
While championships and glory are the ultimate objectives, athletes frequently understand that their platform gives them the opportunity to showcase themselves as good ambassadors of the game and as good human beings.
Recent memory has afforded fans of all sports some worthwhile feel-good moments, both on and off the playing surface.
On Jan. 10, Alabama and Georgia squared off in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. As one of college football’s marquee rivalries, these Southeastern Conference foes were looking to secure glory.
Since leaving Alabama to take the head-coaching position at Georgia, Kirby Smart was never able to beat Nick Saban, his former boss at Alabama.
In heartbreaking fashion, Smart’s Bulldogs always came up short against Saban’s Crimson Tide. This list of losses included surrendering a game-ending, overtime touchdown to Alabama in the 2018 CFP National Championship Game and falling to Alabama in both the 2018 and 2021 editions of the SEC Championship Game.
This time around, Georgia finally slayed the dragon and defeated Alabama 33-18, thanks to a 79-yard interception return with just under a minute to go in what had been a one-possession game just moments earlier.
Smart, after years of hearing the narrative that he’d never beat Saban, could’ve celebrated like a kid in a candy store immediately following the interception.
Instinctively, however, his first action was to lend a hand to Bryce Young, Alabama’s quarterback, who had just thrown an interception that effectively ended his team’s chances of winning.
Instantaneously, Smart recognized that him extending his hand was more important than a celebration (which there’d be plenty of). He recognized that kindness and mutual respect can transcend the importance of a football game.
In 2019, in the midst of a season where he’d become the National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was taking part in an autograph-signing event.
He was approached by a young fan named Lily, who had a jersey that was ready to be autographed by the superstar.
Upon meeting, Lily handed Antetokounmpo a folder of artwork she’d made for him. He responded by getting up and giving her a hug as she began to shed tears of joy.
“This is amazing. This is amazing,” Antetokounmpo said. “You did all this?
Antetokounmpo, the eventual MVP, didn’t have to do that for Lily. He could’ve simply signed her jersey, and that would’ve been that.
But he let his impact stretch further, and subsequently created a heartfelt moment that Lily will carry with her for the rest of her life.
Sometimes, on the flip side, fans create the feel-good moments for the athletes.
On April 8, almost 600 days since his last Major League Baseball game, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini returned to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to a massive standing ovation from the Baltimore faithful.
Nearly a year earlier, on April 28, 2020, Mancini announced that he had stage three colon cancer and would miss the entire 2020 season in order to undergo chemotherapy treatments.
Mancini was not only fighting for his career to continue, but (and much more importantly), he was fighting for his life to continue.
That November, Mancini announced that he was cancer-free and that he planned to return to the Orioles for the 2021 season.
In his comeback season, Mancini was welcomed back with roarous applause from fans all across the league.
He also hit 21 home runs with 71 RBIs in 147 games en route to winning the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Moments like these are emblematic of the palpable impact sports can have on both fans and athletes.
When the two groups of people come together, there’s no telling as to how powerful and iconic that memory might truly be.
Some things are, indeed, bigger than sports.